Monday, March 31, 2008

Didn't Change for an Hour

Apparently last night was Earth Hour (Yahoo article). The concept is to show that you care about the environment by shutting off the electricity for at least an hour. In the grand scheme of things this doesn't do a whole lot, but it's a nice thought.

However, last night in Shenzhen was just another night. The florescent and neon lights of the city of 15 million or so were still bright. No one took notice. I can say that I probably helped save a little energy by not being home for most of the night (about five hours outside) while out to an extended dinner with friends. We're also doing our part by resisting the temptation to turn on the air conditioner until the temperature hits "unbearable." We figure it'll probably get that hot in a few more weeks.
There was also no mention of China's participation in this global environmental event. No word from Beijing, Shanghai, or even Hong Kong. I must say, I am surprised that Hong Kong didn't take part, but I can't find any confirmation.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Low Tide?

It's not a great day for surfing the Web. Just can't seem to catch a decent wave on China Telecom's Internet. Everything is loading slowly and some sites are blocked. It seems that the Great Firewall of China is at it again--blocking the harmless sites, sometimes only for a while. Today I have had difficulty getting into Hotmail, Writer's Digest Forums, and Technorati. Two days ago I even had a difficult time accessing my university's e-mail server... from my office. Of course, most of the usual stuff is also blocked. It seems that they have managed to mess with my Firefox proxy that allows me to access blogs hosted by Blogger. This is getting to be really annoying.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Exquisite

There's a line between dreams and reality and Laird Hunt's The Exquisite staggers across that line, leaving the reader wondering which side is which. Everyone has a hidden life and no one is ever eager to reveal the truth. As Henry, the narrator, says, "Once upon a time I was someone then that stopped." Everything is explained in roundabout ways to leave the reader wanting to know more and only occasionally discovering what might possibly be the reality of the situation. Even when the truth is told it is difficult to embrace as Henry isn't the most trustworthy narrator--the reader is never sure if he's dreaming, hallucinating from medication, in a mental ward, or living a real life.

The Exquisite takes place in New York, mostly the East Village, not long after the terrorist attacks--there is no exact date and the event is only vaguely referred to. The scenery is poetically described, even if the reality of it isn't quite so scenic. The story of Henry revolves around Rembrandt's painting The Anatomy Lesson, from which Aris Kindt obtains his name (or perhaps from which his namesake obtains his name). Through Mr. Kindt, Henry meets the others--Cornelius, The Knockout, The Contortionists--and joins in their business endeavor that involves mock murders, paid for by the victims.

The novel shifts in time--each chapter is a specific time that seems to flow between in a hospital and walking the streets of New York. In both times the characters are the same but different. There is a distinct possibility that Henry is delusional and sees the same people or he just confuses people with similar characteristics. Unraveling the mystery surrounding identity is part of the experience of reading Hunt's novel.

Although confusing at times, Laird Hunt makes The Exquisite an enjoyable read. The wandering narration of Henry is an intriguing voice no matter how unusual the thought process. There is plenty of dark humor--jokes about death, murder, love, and herring. And although the herring is repeatedly mentioned, there is never a distinction if it happens to be red.

As the reader bounces between worlds, there is always something to pick up on. Whether it's a dream or reality, there's something significant. The mockery of murder leads to a double life, just as the discussions of Mr. Kindt's past lead to ambiguity. "[F]ake is funny, don't you think? Fake is like Steve McQueen and the movies--there's always a little real there too."

Laird Hunt is also the author of The Impossibly and Indiana, Indiana.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I'm not the one in trouble here. Apparently, China is extremely angry with all the foreign news outlets for their reporting on the current situation in Tibet. They are appropriately upset in some cases--a few newspapers were running photos from protests in India and Nepal with captions identifying the place as China and the police and soldiers as Chinese. The biggest loser in this case is CNN.

According to the Financial Times, CNN has had to move its Beijing office. Due to their "biased" reporting, China's netizens took it upon themselves to rectify the situation. Someone posted the office phone number and address online and encouraged people to complain. These vigilante complaints degenerated into threats toward the staff.

"CNN staff were forced to vacate their office in Beijing last Friday and operate from a nearby hotel after their phone and fax system was overwhelmed by the volume of calls, including many threats of violence."

This is the face that China is showing months before the Beijing Olympics. After they made a big dog and pony show about how foreign journalists would have more freedom in the country, it's allowing its citizens to threaten the lives of people who are doing their jobs. Is this the friendly face of China welcoming the world?

Friday, March 21, 2008


Yesterday I came across this interesting piece of Beijing Olympic memorabilia--I know, it looks rather ordinary. But you have to take a good look at it to appreciate its wonder.
At first glance I thought it was a real product, but quickly realized it was just a funny knock-off. Since it's difficult to see the details from the photos, here are the descriptions: At the top, it says "Beijing 2008 Olympics" in Chinese. The English below reads, "BeiJinag 2008" with a poor rendition of the Olympic rings below that (it's only four rings and they're all in a straight line). The store had this pen in three colors. I doubt I'll try to collect them all.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Developing Excuses

Since arriving in China in 2005, I've come across plenty of excuses. These ranged from why important information was not provided to why things don't work properly and everything else imaginable. Most of the excuses ran along the lines of "This is China." The translation of this line really means, "We have no good reason, so TS."

More recently, I have noticed a common excuse coming from the government in Beijing--it usually has something to do with development. The most common phrase is: "China is a developing country." This is used to explain why there are little to no safety regulations for workers, why pollution cannot be reduced, and why efficiency cannot be improved.

In his speech yesterday pertaining to the economy and job market, Premier Wen Jiabao said, "China is a developing country with a population of 1.3 billion, which demands us to keep the economy at an appropriate growth rate to confront the employment pressure." He neglected to define what "an appropriate growth rate" is. He also neglected to say what China is developing into. I keep imagining a giant butterfly emerging from the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Or maybe Wen is just talking about his own metamorphosis before he begins the cocoon stage.

I would like to know what the Chinese definition is of a developed nation. They consider all of Europe and North America to be "developed," but they never really state what the differences are between the nations of these regions and their homeland. I have heard that China is not developed because there are a great number of poor people in rural areas. To this, I point out Appalachia. There are plenty of poor, rural areas in so-called developed nations.

My friend likes to point out that while China is still developing, it has nuclear power and an independent space program--something that only a few countries have. I'd like to point out that China's subway systems in Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Shanghai are more modern than any in the U.S. And how many countries have a MagLev train (and second on the way)? What about that impressive marvel of engineering called the Qinghai-Tibet railway? Are these things that developing countries have?

With all the modern amenities that China has in its cities, I think it's time for this country to stop using the excuse of "We're a developing country." This line is getting old.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back to Work

Well, the Great Net-Nanny Nuisance Firewall of China has slightly loosened its noose grip on Internet content. I can usually get into my Yahoo account now--yesterday I had to use the French server to log in. Now, the content filter is working within most news sites to prevent people inside the Middle Kingdom from reading particular articles (I just clicked on a China-related article on the Washington Post site and it was blocked). It seems they're filtering keywords that have to do with recent and/or ongoing incidents. Many bloggers who are not already blocked (my blog is inaccessible on the mainland) have found interesting ways around the filter by typing with symbols in place of letters. I'm just wondering how much longer that will last.

On another topic, my boss said that the school has been providing Chinese classes for the Korean students and will see if I can join in. I just have to hope it's not too advanced for me to understand, otherwise it's back to my plan of getting Jia to kick my ass when I'm lazy and not studying.

One other note that I seem to have forgotten for some time: On my ride to and from school, I have noticed a significant increase in the amount of graffiti in Shenzhen since the Spring Festival break. I've grown accustomed to seeing names with phone numbers painted everywhere (usually for counterfeit diplomas or prostitution), but this is definitely Western-style graffiti (some in English). It's only a matter of time before they paint over it all though--just as soon as they finish digging the subway lines all over the city in anticipation of the 2011 Universiade.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

International Olympic Image

Western China is looking like a mess at the moment as I read plenty of articles (mostly through proxy servers) that are often contradictory in content. I've actually grown a little tired of the news, but I find the commentary more of an interesting read--the Chinese views as well as foreign. The problem is, I don't seem to agree with the majority on either side.

There are a lot of Chinese Internet users posting about how the government should use extreme force (note: I have not read posts in Chinese; these were posts from English sites). There are also a lot of foreigners demanding a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in a few months.

Obviously, I don't agree with those who think a show of force would be necessary (anyone remember 1989?). I also don't agree with an Olympic boycott. The event is not intended to be political, it just happens to be a venue for people to get noticed more easily. No matter what we think about the Chinese government, a boycott of the games by other countries really would not do much aside from anger sports fans and athletes who want the best competition.

However, I see nothing wrong with people holding their own boycotts if they see it as suitable for the situation. There is nothing wrong with people changing their summer travel plans because of what they deem inappropriate.

As I would like to travel to the west of China again (Xinjiang and Tibet), I hope some form of peaceful resolution can occur soon. The longer this situation gets drawn out, the more it will resemble race riots in American cities from about 40 years ago.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Is the S#!% Hitting the Fan Yet?

In the midst of the National People's Congress, China is now facing a few challenges it would probably rather ignore. There's the economic slowdown due to the US markets (most people don't believe the Chinese economy will slow down, however). Of course, there is the usual rhetoric about that little island off the east coast of the mainland and how it is "doomed to fail" in any attempt to separate from the mainland. Last week, there were stories about the Xinjiang Uyghur separatists who were planning some terrorist activities to disrupt the Olympics. The government responded by allegedly arresting a woman on a plane to Beijing with bottles of gasoline and supposedly raiding some organizations in the northwest province.

Today, the big news is the riots in Lhasa. There are mixed stories due to the fact that Western media is banned in the area. There were plenty of stories accessible on the Internet early in the day, but most of them are now blocked (i.e. all related stories on Yahoo!, including the Asia News homepage). One of the few accessible ones is from China Daily (official English propaganda). I highly recommend reading the comments from the "intellectual" public to get an idea of the majority views from the country. There are some great photos on one of my favorite China-related blogs (The opposite End of China), but it's suddenly loading slow here and occasionally crashing. It looks like the Great Firewall of China is working as fast as the hamsters running it to block all information access. I'm also having a difficult time connecting to any news channels on my Internet TV.

Now everyone has to sit back and watch the government's reaction to any of these situations. We can hope they don't ask for advice from Burma.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Think Traffic

As a follow-up to my previous post about Shenzhen cracking down on excessive honking (I still don't know what the official definition is), I would like to report that the police have supposedly handed out 500 fines in the first two days of the campaign. There is no word on how long the campaign will last though. There is also a banner hanging off the railing by the side of the road here that says something about honking being uncivilized and telling drivers to consider safety (I'll try to get a full translation soon).

To welcome back Photo Friday, I would like to say that China has some wonderful signs for the population. However, I think New York City takes top honors with this bit of brilliance to deter illegal parking. It's almost as funny as the Futurama episode with the old New York street sign. As Fry said, it meant "Up yours, kid."

This one comes from in front of Rockefeller Center. Is Big Brother listening in? Has anyone contacted George Orwell?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Go Honk Yourself

According to today's Shenzhen Daily, the city has started a campaign to crack down on excessive honkers (not honkies). The police will issue fines of 150 RMB for any offense and repeat offenders will be shamed by having their identities revealed in the local media.

I personally can't wait for this. Ever since the opening of Coastal City nearby the traffic has just gotten worse (more cars and worse drivers). Of course, I doubt anything will change around here. I have never seen a police officer do anything to any driver in this city. I once witnessed a car run a red light and almost hit a policeman on a motorcycle as well as a few pedestrians, and the policeman did absolutely nothing but ride in the opposite direction.

Next time, maybe the local government will consider handing out fines for illegal driving maneuvers. The problem isn't that there aren't enough driving laws, it's that nothing is ever enforced. I'm convinced that this city would greatly increase its GDP if it would hand out traffic fines.

I'll give an update in a couple weeks to see if this "campaign" has any effect.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Scene on the Streets

Saturday, I came across this sign in Shekou.

It appears that the government hastily erected a blue metal fence around half a block. The area appeared to contain 18 businesses and at least one small apartment building that looked gutted. The sign reads, "Blood accuses the government of being heartless. Return my shop. Return my investment. Return my justice." That is the best translation I can make of it, but if you can offer a better one, go ahead.

Also in the news, there has been quite a lot of talk about terrorism in China. The blogs of China are buzzing with bits of information from the newspapers in the country. Unfortunately, there are no details about any of the incidents that have occurred recently. All of them involve Uyghur (or Uighur) "separatists" from Xinjiang province. Some details or rumors that have spread around, particularly about the plane incident, sound a bit far fetched. Since it has been blogged to death, I'll give you some links to the nice posts at Shanghaiist, Mutant Palm, and The Opposite End of China.


Friday, March 07, 2008

China's Movie Standards

Supposedly there is some censorship in the Chinese film industry (and I'm sure you're surprised by this statement). The government wants to protect its citizens by sanitizing any foreign-made (or Hong Kong-made) movies that may happen to enter this country. It's mostly that they don't want anyone seeing pornography. I find this last point amusing as I have walked passed at least one small theater in my old district of Bao'an that apparently screened such material (one movie's title was simply "One Night Stand").

Now, China wants to "completely standardize" it's film industry. Apparently this is necessary for the government agency to begin rating the movies so that people can choose what is appropriate to watch. Of course, if the people don't want to see the sanitized versions, they can always buy bootlegs on every street corner for 75 cents.

For more evidence, you should check out Imagethief's recent post.

Just Visiting

Jia's friends from Xinjiang are visiting Shenzhen. They're mostly here on business, but we get to hang out with them a bit for meals and drinks. Only one of them I hadn't met previously. The two I have met are some of the nicest people I could know--a recently married couple Jia has known since at least middle school. They make me contemplate moving to Jia's hometown to work, but that would be really far and extremely cold.

As if I needed another reason to like my wife's friends, they gave me a reminder of how great they are. During dinner last night, my mother-in-law was talking about me and other foreigners for some reason (I didn't understand all of it and kind of zoned out a bit). King of the North piped in with, "He's not a foreigner, he's family." (in Chinese, of course). If he keeps it up, I might have to change the name of this blog.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Not Just BS

Item 1 for today: There's a new renewable energy source coming out of California that doesn't involve depleting the world's food supply. According to this article, an energy company in the state will begin using cow manure to harness the energy from the methane gas. As long as I don't have to live near the power plant, I'm all for this green (or brown) energy source. I only say this because I live across from the cow pastures my freshman year in college--it was pretty foul. Now, if they can just come up with a way to harness the energy of the figurative bullshit we'd have an endless supply of renewable fuel coming out of Washington.

Item 2: Brett Favre retired. Packer fans are distraught because they thought he'd just die on the field and win the Superbowl. Well, maybe not quite like that. Anyway, I'm glad he retired this year and didn't drag out his decision. He had a good season and went out in style. He may not have won the big game, but he had a fine final year. I wish more athletes would call it quits while they still have life in them. I wouldn't be surprised if we see Favre as a coach in a few years.

Item 3: Back to school. Three days of teaching are finished so far. I've been trying to get my students to talk about their month-long holidays. It's not easy. It seems like most Chinese don't really talk about their vacations much, but they're always interested in other people's. Asking them questions about their families and friends and Spring Festival activities is like pulling teeth.

I did make one discovery about language in class today. I had suspected it earlier. Many students in China get confused when using adjectives such as bored and boring and any others that are used in a similar manner. The reason being that they use the same word in Chinese to express both. Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way to correct the problem, only to identify it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

America (Hits & Misses)

There were a great many wonderful things about going back to the states for Spring Festival this year. Of course, the most obvious of those things was seeing my family and friends (aside from my parents, brother, and one uncle, I haven't seen anyone in at least two and a half years--some much longer).

Things that really were wonderful on the trip:
1. On every flight (four in all) we had one empty seat between us, which made it easier to sleep. I'd like to thank Continental for somehow managing those seating arrangements as well as miraculously arriving in Newark an hour early.

2. I added to my computer's music collection. Thinking that I'd be home every year, I didn't overload my hard drive with tons of music back in 2005. I'm quite happy to have Social Distortion, Misfits, Beck, Alice in Chains, Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, The Ramones, and Stevie Ray Vaughan on my playlist now.

3. I always enjoy visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York with my aunt. We didn't have enough time there though. There were also the many other sites in lower Manhattan.

4. A second wedding party in English. It was the one chance I had to see some of my friends as well. The food was amazing too.

5. Jia's comment about fat people in America. She later revised it to add Lay-Z-Boy chairs.

6. TM Ward's in Newark is still the best coffee I've ever had. I brought a pound of espresso back with me. I really wanted to try the Judge Alito's Bold Justice blend.

Things that didn't quite work out:
1. I didn't go see a Devils game at the new arena in Newark. They played a lot of home games while we were there. It's walking distance from my old office. If I had stayed there, I would spend my entire paycheck on season tickets.

2. While I did add plenty of music to my computer, I didn't add everything I wanted. I might have to break down a buy a CD in China.

3. The sleet and rain in Washington, DC, sucked beyond belief. A walk from Capitol Hill to Lincoln Memorial to Jefferson Memorial to Smithsonian metro was brutal in that weather. But everything was empty.

4. Being reminded that I have to vote in November. I need to somehow procure an absentee ballot. I'm not sure which state I get to vote in though. My license is still from Colorado but my mailing address is my parents' house in New Jersey. I guess there must be something at the consulate in Guangzhou that could help me sort it out.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Review: Babel

I finally got around to watching Babel last night. This is a great story about connections across cultures and countries--how one incident can involve an entire world. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu does an excellent job assembling Guillermo Arriaga's screenplay.

Babel happens in flashes--the story is cut up into pieces for the audience to place together. It's not all in chronological order. Each section is in order, but they are not altogether in order. It may cause some confusion, mostly toward the end, as to when the events occur. Overall, the story takes place in a matter of a few days (although there is no definite time frame). The catalyst for Babel involves people in Morocco, the U.S., Mexico, and Japan. Each character either plays a part in the incident or has a relation, in some minor way, to it. The mixture of languages really has little significance to the story as it only depicts the scenes and cultures.

The acting is quite good--which shows just how good the writing for the film was. Brad Pitt does an excellent job playing the part of an American tourist in Morocco (I was surprised by how old they made him appear on screen). The two young Moroccan brothers are also wonderful characters--they show the complexities of their family and situation.